It took a musical adventure spanning four continents for Grinspoon to find the key to shaking up the Australian rock scene. Firstly, bassist Joe Hansen made his way to Canada and set himself on a path to brutal speed metal utopia. Guitarist Pat Davern ventured to Amsterdam and Spain in search of some elusive monstrous riffs. Frontman Phil Jamieson found his calling in Singapore, collaborating with a friend on glorious dream pop tunes. Meanwhile, drummer Kristian Hopes found a world of inspiration at home in Brisbane with his new baby son.
Their epic quest to find rock’s holy grail eventually led them home to make the best album of their 14-year career, cementing their position at the helm of the local rock scene.
The band’s history speaks for itself. After landing on a line-up that would continue through to this day, Grinspoon’s star rose fast after claiming triple j’s inaugural Unearthed competition in 1995. Two EPs paved the way for their double Platinum 1997 smash-hit debut, Guide To Better Living. Two years on came the Platinum-selling Easy, and in 2002 their Top 2 album New Detention garnered four ARIA Award nominations for the band and their production team. An ARIA was in their grasp soon after, with 2004’s Top 5 Thrills, Kills & Sunday Pills picking up Rock Album of the Year. And doing what they do best, the band’s live show has conquered stages across the country, including on multiple Big Day Out tours and Splendour In The Grass bills.
Their sixth album, Six To Midnight, only reinforces their status as the premier rock act in the country. Drawing from around 45 songs penned individually and in sessions at Port Macquarie and Myocum on the NSW North Coast, Grinspoon convened to Studios 301 in Byron Bay with acclaimed US producer Rick Will (Incubus, No Doubt, Gillian Welch, Skindred). Conscious of not slipping into old habits, the band recorded together, live, for the first time in a decade. The result is a tight, frenetic and tense rock album, brimming with energy and buoyant enthusiasm.
“Rick was adamant about it. He was like, ‘You guys are playing live on this record, I don’t care what you’ve done or how you’ve done it in the past; this is the way you guys sound best,’” Hansen explains. “We wanted to get back to what we did when we first started and strip away all the stuff gathered over the years.”
Naturally, channelling everyone’s often-disparate ideas in the one cohesive direction was a challenge. A few heated exchanges in the studio led to a big confrontation – and then a moment of clarity for Jamieson.
“The boys had a big yell at me,” the singer recalls. “It was: ‘We want you to write more from your heart and soul and channel the anger and energy and whatever you’ve got in you.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not 17 anymore! I can’t write like that.’ In some ways I needed to hear that – but I didn’t like hearing it. I had a think about it and then wrote ‘Dogs’, and that was the little ship that guided us through the rest of the record.”
A monster of a tune, “Dogs” is also the perfect album opener. Hopes’ pummelling beat beneath explosive, meaty riffs set the scene for Jamieson’s powerful delivery. And if “Dogs” is the backbone of Six To Midnight, its limbs are no less fierce. There’s the brutal, dark groove of the feisty “Right Now”, the chugging guitar rocker “Tonight”, the massive melodic-pop of “Innocence” and the emotive, anthemic closer “Summer” – a brilliant nod to the frontman’s penchant for dream pop. Meanwhile, the pop-tinted “Comeback” showcases Jamieson’s dynamic vocal work and a refreshing directness with his words.
“The lyrical themes of desperation, loneliness, paranoia, self-loathing – it’s really uplifting,” Jamieson laughs. “There are no happy pop bubbles; there’s not a lot of positivity, but that’s OK. A lot has happened over the past 24 months, so I tapped into that.”
Nonetheless, Jamieson is adamant any dramas behind the scenes had no effect on his resolve in front of the mic. Grinspoon’s goal has always been unwaveringly clear: to write a great album. “Just because certain things that have happened doesn’t make me any more or less hungry than I was previously,” he adds. “I want to make good records and I want to have good shows. Regardless of health issues, I always want to do the greatest thing ever. That was instilled in me a long time ago.”
From Canada to Spain, Amsterdam and Singapore, Six To Midnight now finds a home in Australia on Grinspoon’s new imprint, Chk Chk Boom records. It’s an exciting new era for a band whose endurance is as much to do with their immense talent as their sheer determination.